A few of us at InfoWorld latch onto the latest trend and run with it. Others retain their disbelief, even as enterprise IT spends big bucks on new and exciting technology. The hot trend of the moment, software as a service, has stirred energetic debate inside InfoWorld. Our leading enthusiast (some might say “patsy”) for the latest and greatest, Executive Editor at Large Eric Knorr, and our foremost skeptic (some might say “young fogey”), Test Center Techincal Director P.J. Connolly, have been arguing about the software-as-a-service trend, led by Salesforce.com, ever since Knorr wrote “The End of IT as We Know It?”. Their ongoing argument has generated some light as well as heat, so we decided to get it on the record for the (some might say “dubious”) benefit of InfoWorld readers.
EK: My basic proposition is this: Salesforce.com-style hosted services will replace in-house, server-based applications sooner than most people think. The most compelling technical reason is that Internet protocols have already taken over the core of the enterprise, so most enterprise apps are being delivered through the browser already. Who hosts the app has little or no impact on the end-user experience. But the business issues are what will really drive this: You can’t beat zero deployment and maintenance combined with zero up-front licensing costs. Granted, establishing trust for large-scale deployments is a challenge for the hosted model. As the trusted brands emerge, though, there’s no stopping this trend. These days, can anyone predict where their business will be 18 months from now when all the checks have been written for software licensing and new server hardware, and when some huge enterprise software rollout is finally complete? Why not just pay as you go, pay for what you need?
PJC: Eric, I’m all for cutting the ties to legacy applications, but there’s a fair amount of reality that has to be checked before IT departments can dump all of their in-house applications. Funny thing is, I was going to mention Salesforce as an example of the kind of application that’s easy enough to digest, because sales is sales. It doesn’t really matter if you’re buying big ones and selling little ones, or if you make big ones and sell big ones; inventory is still inventory and commissions are still commissions. The problem is what happens behind the Web browser: There’s still a lot of mainframe screen-scraping going on, and that’s where many of these one-size-fits-all schemes fall apart. Another thing: Who told you there’s zero deployment cost with hosted services? There’s always something that takes more bodies or time, even if it ends up being a soft cost.